Opinion: Metropolitan Club Debate Example of Working Families’ Exclusion from Columbus Politics
Editor’s Note: In a press release from the campaign of Columbus City Council candidate Liliana Rivera Baiman, Baiman announced that she will not be participating in the Columbus Metropolitan Club’s Columbus City Council Debate forum at the Boathouse on Wednesday, Oct. 23, moderated by Columbus Underground Co-Founder Walker Evans. The press release reads as follows:
City Council Candidate Liliana Rivera Baiman: Swanky Lunchtime Metropolitan Club Debate is Just Another Example of Working Families’ Exclusion from Columbus Politics
Like most Columbus voters, Baiman does not have the option of simply walking away from work to attend a three hour Wednesday lunchtime debate.
The campaign of Columbus City Council candidate Liliana Rivera Baiman announced today that she will not participate in Columbus Metropolitan Club’s October 23rd Columbus City Council Debate at the Boathouse event venue. Like most Columbus voters, Baiman does not have the option of simply walking away from work to attend a three hour Wednesday lunchtime debate.
“It is critical for the health of our democracy that each candidate has an opportunity to share their vision for Columbus directly with voters.” said Baiman, “Our campaign is deeply disappointed that the Columbus Metropolitan Club keeps choosing to schedule this candidate debate at noon on a weekday and charge $50 per person, depriving most working Columbus families the opportunity to attend. Virtually every other candidate forum in the city is free and scheduled on evenings or weekends. This is yet another example of the exclusion of working families from Columbus politics.”
Adding to the campaign’s concern regarding the event is the response they received from Columbus Metropolitan Club calling into question Baiman’s intentions and credentials. The campaign requested permission to send a surrogate to represent Candidate Baiman multiple times. One response via email from Andrew Campbell, Vice President of Programming for Columbus Metropolitan Club included the following troubling quote:
“I find it difficult to understand how she believes she could fulfill the responsibility of holding a seat on Columbus City Council if she is unable to accept an invitation to a business luncheon and candidate forum with 6 weeks advance notice, for free?”
Putting aside the fact that City Council members are paid a salary and able to move full time into the position once elected, this statement is in direct conflict with the stated values of the Columbus Metropolitan Club, including: “We strive to make our gatherings accessible to those who wish to attend, reflecting Columbus’ vision of being a smart and open city.” This unacceptable response also demonstrates the barriers facing working women who attempt to access seats of power in city government. The ability to attend an upscale lunch for three hours in the middle of the day on Wednesday is the rare exception for most of Columbus, not the rule. As a voice for working families, Baiman will continue to advocate for a Columbus for the many, not the few.
— From the campaign of Columbus City Council candidate Liliana Rivera Baiman
Update: As a response to the above piece, Columbus Metropolitan Club Vice President of Programming Andrew Campbell had this to say:
I appreciate the concerns pointed out by candidate Ms. Baiman. CMC has been open and supportive of the candidate and indeed would like to include all voices in the debate.
My quoted question was rhetorical and posed personally to Lili’s campaign manager who was requesting to place a surrogate in Lili’s spot. No debate would allow a surrogate. It would not be fair to the other candidates and in fact, the point of a debate is to meet and hear from the actual candidates, not someone else.
Troubling to me was the answer poised to this rhetorical question in part:
“As for fulfilling her responsibilities, Columbus City Council members are paid a high salary, and if Lili wins a seat, she will be able to reduce her hours or leave her current position to focus on her highest priority, serving the people of Columbus as their representative on City Council.”
Other points to clarify:
1. CMC is, and has been, a publicly accessible luncheon forum since 1976. Key to the tradition of CMC is dining with others attending which is how people meet new people and discuss the issues of the day. The fact that lunch is part of the forum explains the cost and frankly is far from being swanky. We mostly eat chicken or pasta.
2. All speakers attend for free and can bring a guest, also for free. Speakers may also invite as many people as they like for $37 (the guest rate) rather than $50 Public rate.
3. The time commitment for CMC speakers is from 11:30 a.m. to 1:15 p.m. Or, 1 hour and 45 minutes. The audience time is from Noon to 1:15, or 1 hour and 15 minutes. CMC is respectful of everyone’s schedule and adheres to this timeline rigidly.
CMC is always open to critique, criticism and suggestion. My personal apologies to the candidate and to anyone else who may have been offended in this matter. We strive to do better in the future.